What is Agroforestry?

What is Agroforestry?
Contributor
Contributor
External Guest Writer
June 2, 2022

What is Agroforestry?

Agroforestry, also known as forest farming, is a practice that integrates agricultural systems, or agro-, into forests to create sustainable and self-reliant natural ecosystems. Agroforestry systems include the use of shrubbery and tree species to mimic the forests around the area to conserve its natural environmental benefits.

Incorrectly described as 'agriculture integrating trees,' agroforestry builds a complex ecosystem of flora and fauna that protects the natural environment from degradation caused by traditional agricultural practices. Agroforestry improves the land, and contributes to the well-being of the ecosystem. 

Agroforestry practices provide habitat for various types of plants, animals, and microbes that reside in forest environments. Meanwhile, farmers continue to raise agricultural crops and/or livestock within these natural forests. The idea is to merge agricultural production into natural settings - being able to farm without disturbing wildlife habitats.

As climate change continues to worsen, shifting agricultural production to adopt agroforestry systems is one of the methods seen to reverse the effects of environmental degradation. Agroforestry is part of permaculture, and is a theorized solution to the environmental concerns over traditional farming.

How Does It Work?

Agroforestry works to provide sustainable production of agricultural crops, timber, and other raw materials needed to sustain quality of life. Agroforestry can be done by landscaping the farm with native trees adjacent to the forest to blend the lands together, or setting up farms in forest margins for a natural environment.

Agroforestry can be adopted in landscape restoration, particularly in areas with burnt or degraded land. The soil nutrient content after forest fires and natural calamities contain ample minerals to regrow plants, making agroforestry a solution to restore degraded areas.

Areas to be used in agroforestry are marked off by fences or through the use of strategically planted flora, and crop production is done in marked farm areas. Select coffee farms and banana plantations have adopted agroforestry to grow higher quality crops with the help of natural fauna.

The trees and shrubs in agroforestry systems are maintained by the farmers, as they grow their crops alongside the forest area. The trees can also supply moderate amounts of limber, making agroforestry an ideal practice for resource sustainability.

There are a handful of practices that make up agroforestry systems according to the USDA National Agroforestry Center. All of which are meant to promote landscape restoration, and undergo agroforestry development to improve the biodiversity in the area.

Agroforestry Farming Systems

Forest farming systems include specific agroforestry practices, like alley cropping, to optimize the use of the land, and bring in financial income to the farmers caring for the area. Other agroforestry ecosystem services are done for the benefit of the land and aquatic habitats, like windbreaks and riparian buffers meant to preserve the natural quality of the area.

These types of farming systems are meant to create sustainable ways of farming, bridging together the natural processes found on earth with human systems that create job opportunities and sources of income for farmers. 

Alley Cropping

Newly-planted trees would take years or even decades to mature, making it difficult for farms to rely solely on timer as a profitable product. Alley cropping refers to growing crops between the lines of trees, creating a sort of alley that produces vegetables, fruits, grains, flowers, and other income-generating plants. 

Silvopasture

Silvopasture provides a natural environment for livestock, allowing trees and livestock to interact with one another. The trees provide sufficient shade, fruit, and resources that the animals can freely rely upon, putting less stress on the animals, and building a more natural ecosystem within the farm.

Forest Farming

As part of agroforestry, this type of practice allows for the growing, cultivating, and harvesting of shade-loving resources like herbs, mushrooms, and other flora found under the shade of trees in the forest. The trees provide the right amount of shade, which promotes the growth of herbal and ornamental forest plants, as well as beneficial fungi.

Riparian Forest Buffers

This practice prevents soil erosion as the agroforestry farm is located near and around riverbanks. The buffers filter farm runoff, while the trees and shrubs around the area keep the environment natural as they provide shade and soil stability.

Windbreaks

Also called shelterbelts, windbreaks offer cover from the wind for the plants, animals, and the soil in the area. As part of agroforestry, windbreaks can also be called living snow fences or hedgerows, and they can support wildlife while providing an alternative income source.

The Benefits of Agroforestry

Agroforestry practices create sustainable and beneficial agricultural landscapes, as the forest land encourages wildlife habitat areas to form. With the idea that the farm and forest can combine and reverse climate change, much of agroforestry research goes into optimizing agroforestry practices to build farms that provide both a source of income for farmers, and a natural habitat for plant, fish, and animal life. 

Income-Generating Opportunities

For human societies, agroforestry opens opportunities for jobs, and provides income for farmers. Farmers create self-sustaining ecosystems where their crops can thrive for generations, and forest farms provide income-generating opportunities for individuals living near forest areas not meant for traditional agricultural systems.

Improve the Environment

Agroforestry systems improve pollinator processes as pollinators have ample vegetation to cover. The practice also improves soil and water quality as it preserves the natural nutrients present in the earth, and reduces the amount of carbon emissions that typically come from traditional farms. 

Sustainability

Agroforestry is part of sustainable agriculture as it relies on natural processes to grow, fertilize, and harvest crops. Native Americans have long practiced agroforestry as a way to be one with nature, and to connect human systems with natural systems. They are currently reviving the practice in a bid to create sustainable agricultural practices.

There is little technological involvement in agroforestry, keeping the practice as close to natural processes as possible to provide food. Agroforestry allows nature to thrive within its farms, using only natural fertilizers, pesticides, and growing mediums whenever possible.

Waste products formed from the practice are organic, which can be turned into compost and brought back into the earth. Farmers strive to keep forest farms all-natural, limiting the machinery, equipment, and fertilizers used in their farms.

Connecting with Nature

Agroforestry is a continuously developing practice within the agricultural industry, and it is a substantial step into becoming environmentally aware in our practices and processes. Agroforestry adoption is one step closer to reversing the effects of climate change, particularly in agricultural landscapes.

Agroforestry is not only about the environment. These systems have been strategically studied and researched for decades to come up with practices that will benefit all the players in the ecosystem - including humans for financial income, and food security.